What happened was not intentional. I do not normally ease drop uninvited upon private conversations of others. However, (and you know what comes after the words however or but) in this case, I believe it to be unavoidable.
Japanese maple foliage
It had been a busy day in the garden with my overdoing it a bit as usual resulting in aches, pains, and mostly exhaustion. I had my shower, a satisfying dinner with desert, then headed for the deck to keep from going to sleep too early. On the way out the door I picked up my unfinished glass of French unoaked Chardonnay wine, thought what the hell picking up the bottle as well.
The deck sits almost at the top of the hill where my garden is located; a small intimate space beneath three mature cedar trees where I can look down and across results of my labors. I sat my chilled wine on the end table, fluffed up a cushion, preparing to watch the colorful sunset well on its way to dusk. A glass or so later I was well on my way to between somewhat-awake and drifting into a warm comfortable drowsiness the color of Chardonnay, with feelings like a fat cat on a warm windowsill.
Trillium cunneatum, Tall Toadlily
While floating in place I kept thinking-feeling something approaching from behind me along the old overgrown garden path. At first I thought it was my wife coming to check upon me, but she always walks with a purpose. What I was hearing was softer and would start and stop, start and stop as it approached the deck where I sat. As the motion drew closer I thought I could hear indistinct conversation just at lower hearing level. I admit to almost holding my breath and becoming as still as possible to try and hear more distinctly.
The rustling stopped just behind me and I realized it/they were not aware of me. I could not see, but I could hear. At first a babbling, an almost understanding of the sounds, then beginning to pick up on the rhythm of the speech. The voice was soft, low, and almost a whisper, but was now clear to my ears.
“…..you are not too young to learn being thankful. Listen carefully and watch while I point out what you need to know. Sometimes there will be signs to read when you are older.”
“You are among the luckiest alive being born near where we stand. Most your age only get to eat what is in local forest and fields. Not you. We are now in Mr. Bush’s garden. Here you can find cuisine surpassing one’s imagination. There is a world of foliage and flower from Japan, China, the Himalayan Mountains, and more. Even the presentation is impeccable. Exactly the correct container to show off those delectable leaves with this Japanese maple. Smell and taste the bounty of Asian cuisine. Compare it to the local maple tree foliage.”
“Oh, this is yummy, Mommy. Leaves are smaller and more tender. I like the spicy taste.”
“The spiciness you taste is a special condiment Mr. Bush sprays on his exotic plants. You can take one more nibble, but don’t eat too much for I will be showing you more to eat in his garden.”
“Come along now. Over here we have food that is native to the forests of Eastern US; what we usually refer to as soul food. You can ignore the ferns, I am not sure why he grows them for they taste awful. But you will enjoy the spotted geraniums, the Delphiniums are an acquired taste. His Trilliums are beyond description; almost ever species in one garden. Absolute heaven. If you desire an after dinner mint he grows Wintergreen.”
“Can we stay here all night, Mommy? I want to eat all the trilliums.”
“You will get a tummy ache for sure, little spotted one. Far too much for one walk. When we are finished in his garden we will walk over to his water fall and get a drink. Meanwhile, let’s move on over there next. I want to show you his exclusive European cuisine.”
“Here is fine dining at its best, Little One.” The variety is exhaustive; think plants from the Alps, from Britain, France, and Baltic and near East. Every corner of the temperate world. Such tastes as one cannot imagine, only savor. Here try this; European Martagon lilies. Young stems and bloom are beyond words.”
“All in secluded shade where we can be cool and unseen while we dine. Only the best for you my little spotted wonder.”
I have no idea what, but I did something to cause her to notice me. That haughty white tail went straight up along with her nose. She gave a small snort, the young one copied the tail signal, and they serenely flowed from the garden leaving me there to put a cork in the bottle and empty that last glass of Chardonnay.
Preaching to the Choir
If you garden you are probably aware of what I have to say about staying healthy during this coronavirus epidemic. But, it is always good to return to the basics on occasion. Sometimes we forget or misremember. As gardeners we are all members of the same church, but the last time you heard this preached you may have been napping, or acoustics were bad from your pew.
Gardeners and yardeners have built in advantages over a non-gardeners. We are outside in open spaces with breezes blowing, sunlight upon our hatted heads and sp50 shirts. Gardeners generally work alone, so need for masked protection here.
Gardeners know and feel how the garden aids in staying healthy in body, mind and spirit. We also are aware how all three are connected, interlaced, for our overall health.
The Candy Jack
The words Good Health are synonymous with Exercise and Walking. When gardening I am up and down the hillside where my garden is located more often than Tommy Smothers’ yo-yo. I am always forgetting a tool, thinking of something I need back at the house or garage. Ten thousand steps are easily reached on my health app.
I do more kneeling down and getting back up from my kneeler than a devout Catholic at High Mass. Add an oxygen tank to my back while bobbing up and down weeding and removing debris and by my calculations I should be eliminating future penitence.
More lifting goes on than at an Olympic weight lifting competition. Carry those tubs of debris down the hillside and out of the garden to a waiting cart, then forking the debris out of the cart to the waste pile in the woods.
Carrying two-gallon watering cans from the house to the garden, then up the hill to water newly transplanted perennials and shrubs is definitely lifting. When filled that is almost seventeen pounds weight. I should have arms like a gorilla by now. (I had to stop carrying with only my right hand. My arm was getting longer than the left.)
I could go on and on with analogies such as digging more holes than a professional grave digger, but you get the idea. Gardening is manual labor.
Frond of Japanese Painted fern in Spigelia marilandica, Indian Pink
Contact with Our Beginnings and Endings
In case you have forgotten, the soil we play in while gardening carries a reward for us besides a receptacle for our plants. Soil, or dirt, contains something called mycobacterium. Contact improves our brain functions and boosts our moods by increasing serotonin, the happy chemical.
Another case study
You may “know” this one but do not consciously think of it. A study was held proving that blooms of a flowers cause females to smile. Stop and think, men. What do you do to impress the ladies having them associate good feelings with you? Yep. Send them flowers. Be the smile inside or out, male or female, one cannot help but smile when looking at blooms in the garden.
Tree and Shrubs
If you are a shade gardener there are additional benefits to gardening. First that comes to mind is the lowering of temperatures in shade. Usually a gardener can count on ten degrees lower than out in the sun.
The benefits of Forest Bathing, or walking in the woods, has been known since mankind had time to sit and think about it. Intentional time among trees is like a medicinal tonic. It can reduce blood pressure, stress levels, build the immune and cardio systems. Mood, energy, get boosts.
Finally, if the soul is a container, gardening fills it to overflowing.
Deciduous Azalea blooms
Hot and humid means I have problems with my breathing. Supplementary oxygen from my backpack helps, but physical efforts soon become exhausting. I give up the digging and switch over to weeding while on my kneeler, but even in a shady spot I find myself succumbing to the close air, wanting to give it all up. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak. Uncomfortable enough that I do not want to be out there in the garden past noon.
Looks as though physical limitations and common sense will dictate, at the least, only half-days of garden happiness while this summer weather prevails. The new schedule is into the garden for activities by 8:00 AM and back into air conditioning before noon. Lunch, a nap, and then stand with my nose pressed against the window panes longing to be outside.
Half a Loaf
There is the old saying about half a loaf is better than none, and there is considerable truth in that one. I talk with myself about a time when I could not work in my garden, being too weak from cancer treatments. Most of those years my garden only received short visits from me, if at all. So, while I may not have everything I want when I want it now, there remains that half loaf of what I desire.
Butter and Jam
I suppose I could take my half-loaf and spread it with peanut butter and jam. Take my time that I have and enhance, enjoy, my garden in the mornings, find other activities for the afternoons. I can still walk my gardens and look at the flowers of summer and how they stand up to the heat even if I cannot. After all, they are my rewards for past year’s transplanting. I can also be thankful that it is summer heat and humidity that keeps me from actively gardening and not a worsening of my current physical conditions.
Gardening & Life
At times gardening is a bit like the rest of my life. Or, at the least, gardening reminds me of my life. How I still have options and those resulting choices belong to me. I can concentrate on the half a loaf that I do not have and do a little dance with dark clouds of depression. Or, another option would be to enjoy and appreciate the part of the loaf I have been given at the table of life. Perhaps even satisfy my sweet tooth with cookies in the breadbox, make the most of what is there, while it is there.
Afternoon tea is promptly at 4PM. I have first pick Darjeeling, crispy almond butter cookies (peanut butter and jam are for breakfast), so join me in cozy conversation while summer simmers.
Geranium maculatum Vicki Lynn. Photos Edelweiss Perennials
We have all seen the joke about someone painting themselves into a corner. Of course that never happens to you or I. We have more foresight than to allow such foolishness to happen to us. Having said that, I believe I worked myself into a corner in my garden. While it did take time and effort, I managed to find a way.
About half way up the hillside where my garden resides there is a stand of three mature cedar trees. The trees grow in an almost perfect triangle. My first efforts were to have a shade garden beneath, but soon gave up due to rock ledges and shallow clay soil. I did resort to cleanup with a weed eater and installing a bench, but then realized you could be seen by passing traffic on the nearby street. When in my garden I enjoy my privacy.
Soft Shield Fern
Photo Casa Flora
To the front of the first two cedars I constructed a raised bed from cedar logs with the back log against the boles of the cedars. The raised bed was the same width and length as space between the two trees. Two azalea were transplanted to form a screen. One azalea took off like a gardener’s dream, while the other sulked, pouted, and within a couple of years went to be big compost pile in the sky. The first azalea filled the bed while leaving room for smaller plants to be grown around the perimeter. Not only did I have my privacy, turned out to be a decent example of a small shade garden.
I was never satisfied with the concept of a bench under the cedar trees, feeling it was far too limited. One day there was a cartoon balloon in the sky that read: “Gene, build a deck.” Well, how could I not? It was a sign. As it turned out there was an exact space for a ten foot by ten foot deck nestled between the three trees beginning on the opposite side of the two tree boles. That left a kind of awkward no-man’s strip four feet wide by 10 feet long at the base of the two trees. At each end where the boles were located the strip was only two feet wide.
So Now What?
I weeded that plot of neglect for some years until it finally evolved into a design challenge. I took a probe and began to locate roots in the space. Turned out soil was not all that bad. I drew up a list of plants and did a thumbprint design in my mind and went to work with my spade. That design got changed every time I hit a large root or a mass of smaller ones. Which was frequent. There were several expressions of rottenruckensuch!
Listen to the Tree
I sat my design concepts aside and listened to the trees. I removed the log that defined the edge of the azalea bed. Then two bags of pine bark mini chips and two bags of composted cow manure with peat were spread. Amendments were worked into the three to six inches of soil that were available to the spade. Once plants were transplanted there would be a mulch of fine pine bark chips.
Asarum maximum in Container
All plants had to be champions of root competition, tolerant of shade and somewhat dry soil. I also wanted a good mix of foliage forms and colors with some emphasis on fall.
Asarum maximum ‘Shell Shocked’ or Panda Faced Ginger, I have grew from three starts in a large container for some years where it spent its’ winters in the greenhouse. It is rated as 6b or 7, which, I feel, is borderline hardy here. This winter both the ginger and I find out.
Clumps are eight inches tall, gently spreading to form a colony of large shiny deepest-green foliage with silver tortoise shell patterns overlaying heavy substance. Individual heart-shaped leaves reach eight inches across by nine inches. Outstanding. We will see how evergreen they will be here, but they are in a protected area.
Polystichum setiferum, or Soft Shield Fern, is two feet of airy, feathery, soft as a baby duck’s down fronds. I have had this one for years in my garden, dividing and moving it several times. This time I took a spade and cut off a chunk to transplant. Should provide great contrast to all the other plants used in this now no longer awkward area.
Geranium maculatum ‘Vicki Lynn’ is an exclusive of Edelweiss Perennials. I ordered two for this project. Flowers are a bit larger than our local species with a light center. Foliage is why it was selected with each leaf large, glossy and maroon-red in fall.
Hemiboea henryi is the groundcover that will tie it all together. Foliage is bright green, highly polished, rounded and almost succulent with spots of purple-cinnamon on the stems. Blooms come arranged like the spokes of a wagon wheel, well displayed above the leaves. Each creamy white flower is shaped like a foxglove and have cinnamon spots in its throat. All creeping about just beneath the mulch to put on a show in September.
And, I managed to back out of that one without leaving footprints. Not so awkward after all.
Oakleaf Hydrangea bloom
I am trapped in a stay-home-produced time warp. There is the younger-me that began this garden, and there is the today-me (sometimes known as Mr. Know-it-All) conversing with Whipper-Snapper. I call my younger self names for he is over 30 years younger than I.
“You need to lighten up. I did not begin gardening until I was in my fifties. I, for the most part, was self-taught. Yes, I know the old saw about he who is self-taught has a fool for a teacher. I happen to think I have done a great job with my garden, so why not leave me alone and let me enjoy what I have created? And, just where were you when you were really needed all those years?”
“Whoops! I did not mean my presence to be criticism. Far from it. I greatly admire your work over past years. You have created a place-of-peace garden, a healing place for body and soul, which I would not want to be without. Thank you. What say we take a walk together in our garden and see it through each other’s eyes?”
“The Oakleaf Hydrangea you transplanted on the hillside many years ago has performed well. A great selection placed among the limestone ledge with its clay soil. So many large white conical blooms and felted leaves, with winter time bare stems of peeling cinnamon. I cleaned out deadwood, did a slight nip and tuck operation, finally cleaning out all weeds beneath the shrub. Looking a bit open and bare now.”
“As the native hydrangea was maturing I was surprised to see seedlings of wildflowers moving in beneath the shrub. Seemed as though all my wildflowers wanted to get into the act. There were Jacob’s Ladders, Jack-in-the-Pulpit, Wood Poppy, Woodland Phlox, and Hepatica filling the space in a riot of color and texture. Then I had my gardening activities curtailed and more aggressive plants moved in and crowded them out.”
“What say we put back that riot of color and kick it up a notch? This year your volunteer Columbine seem to be mostly some shade of purple. Let’s pick the darkest shade and transplant a couple beneath the hydrangea.
“Hold on. You, of all people, know I am not crazy about the color purple.”
“Hear me out. Let me go on and complete my design concept using plants in the garden.”
Mumbling softly beneath upfront thoughts: “Like I have a lot of choice?”
Superb Lily, Turks Cap lily, Lilium superbum.
“Let’s take a couple of darkest purple Columbine, then follow up with that white-blooming hardy geranium as a background. Where it is presently located deer eat it back just as it comes into bloom. Perhaps they will leave it alone if they have to work for it. Then we select three of those Jack-in-the-Pulpit seedlings with dark chocolate markings. You with me thus far?”
“Then we walk over here and select a seedling of hardy geranium ‘Coffee’ that has darkest mahogany colored large leaves. Next up we need some later color, so let’s move three of the superbum lilies in orange with chocolate freckles. Next to the lilies and completing the area we use Branched Bug Bane to lead along those stones and ferns. It is your favorite bug-bane. Then further up the hill and across we add two more bug-banes with their white fuzzy candles of bloom.”
“Sounds pretty ambitious to me. You up to all that digging and toting, old man? I will not be around to help you with that one.”
“Well, it won’t all happen in one day. Some today, another tomorrow, but I can get it done. In fact, if we both work together I know it will all become reality. After all, what would I do without you and all you experience over past years? Without you I would not be who I am today.”
Having last smart remark as usual: “Oh, so now you are going to blame me for you?”
If you garden with limitations you are in my book.
Iris cristata. A favored groundcover in my gardens.
Gene’s book, available at Amazon.com
We have had May in April and now March in May. We enjoyed the early warm weather and, with no forecast of freeze, moved all of our containers out of the greenhouse. Containers, large and small, went on to the front porch and patio, the deck, and up into my garden. It was not a full week later foretasted weather changed and we saw three nights of freeze warnings back to back.
Many of the containers were move up on to the porch and covered, some went back into the greenhouse, and the larger ones I moved to my garden were gathered in one sheltered location and covered.
In my excitement and celebration of early spring I began transplanting earlier than normal. Begin with in tender Asian perennials, add in newly emerging green noses and disaster was in the making. Some plants got covered with cardboard boxes, others with Styrofoam boxes and in one area I used blankets. The rest of the garden simply had to ride it out. Many of the plants were killed back from earlier frosts and now were hit harder than ever once more.
While moving three heavy containers from the deck to my office my wife and I shared the weight. When setting the last large container down we almost bumped heads, and she looked me directly in the eye while saying “Tell me again. Just why are we doing this?” In and out, out and in, shuffle those pots.
One More Time
This afternoon it is supposed to warm up a bit and I will be removing the covers from my tender perennials, take the protection from containers and move them back into place. Porch and patio, deck, get reshuffled once more. One would think appropriate music would be written for the dance we gardeners do. Something besides the Russian classic Volga Boatmen, or lyrics from Showboat like “lift that barge, tote that bale.”
Trillium cuneatum with Epimedium
By after dinner, I will be feeling all smug and self-satisfied for accomplishing all that manual labor and having my gardening world back in order. While Homo sapiens humans remember pain in order to avoid future behaviors that can inflict pain, Homo sapiens ssp. gardener seems to be missing that vital gene. I will keep on waltzing with the weather, shuffling along, and wondering where I can purchase that next plant.
We’re not out of the woods on COVID-19 yet. Stay home and read my latest book.